As the new year progresses, the Suffolk County government is facing a plethora of changes, with the biggest arguably being the transition of county executive from Steve Bellone (D) to Ed Romaine (R).
Romaine, who served as the Town of Brookhaven supervisor for over 10 years after winning a special election in 2012, won the race for county executive over Dave Calone (D) with 57% of the vote. The former town supervisor was sworn into office on New Year’s Day, marking the first time a Republican will serve as Suffolk County executive in 20 years.
Steve Bellone served as county Executive from 2012 to 2023. Due to being term limited, Bellone could not seek reelection this year. [See “Bellone signs bill to strengthen term limits in Suffolk County,” TBR News Media website, July 14, 2022.]
During his farewell speech Dec. 21, Bellone thanked members of his staff and administration and recounted various achievements, including the handling of superstorms, confronting corruption in the county’s law enforcement and more.
“When we came into office, we faced the greatest financial crisis in history, more than $500 million accumulated deficit,” Bellone said during his speech. “And after years of making the difficult but necessary choices, we will leave office with this county in the best financial condition in its history, with more than $1 billion in reserves,” he said, thanking the budget office.
Bellone discussed his administration’s handling of Suffolk County’s water quality crisis, saying, “With an amazing water quality team, we created innovative programs, brought stakeholders together and developed an advanced blueprint for solving the water quality crisis over the next generation,” while giving special thanks to Deputy Suffolk County Executive Peter Scully and Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning Commissioner Sarah Lansdale.
Bellone was not immune from criticism on both sides of the aisle. Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman and Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer was critical of Bellone throughout his tenure as executive.
“As the curtain falls on Bellone’s 12-year term, Suffolk County is left grappling with the consequences of a legacy marked by broken promises, ineffective leadership and a failure to address critical issues facing Suffolk County,” Schaffer said in a statement.
“The time for accountability and a reevaluation of priorities in Suffolk County’s leadership is long overdue,” he added. Additionally, Schaffer is hopeful that Romaine will meet the county’s priorities and needs “based on his past experience and accomplishments.”
Not everyone shared Schaffer’s sentiments. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who on Dec. 31 completed her final term as the county’s legislator for District 6, reflected on Bellone’s time as executive, saying that working with Bellone had “been incredibly productive for the residents here in Suffolk County.”
One major issue on which Anker praised Bellone’s leadership was the opioid crisis. Suffolk was the first county in New York to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors, which resulted in settlements that will have the county receiving around $200 million over two decades to help address the ongoing crisis.
“That was Steve’s leadership in providing direction and in a positive way trying to get through this incredibly challenging time of this addiction epidemic,” Anker said.
Bellone has yet to announce any future plans in his political career.